Robyn Cochran, who has served as principal at since 2005 and has worked for Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) for 26 years, has been named the FCPS 2012 Principal of the Year and is the recipient of the Washington Post Distinguished Educational Leadership Award.
Cochran is one of 21 principals–representing the public school systems in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area and private schools–selected by the Washington Post for the award.
“As the principal of a school that was once under a high level of Virginia Department of Education sanctions, Robyn Cochran never wavered from her focus of best practices and doing the work that is best for students and student learning,” Title I resource teacher Rebecca Forgy said in a statement. “She truly believes that by staying true to this work at Dogwood, student learning will progress and meeting expected benchmarks and AYP will simply be the byproduct.”
Cochran began her tenure at the school by addressing disciplinary problems and establishing Dogwood Expectations, a program implemented to teach children respectful behavior and peaceful problem-solving skills. She relied on teacher leaders to teach and reinforce these skills, which resulted in a change in the atmosphere at the school.
This program, along with the implementation of Responsive Classroom, provides students with consistent expectations and, if discipline needs do arise, a proactive response is instituted which is designed to prevent future or reoccurring incidents, resulting in a reduction in out-of-school suspension by more than 60 percent over the past five years, FCPS says.
“It was evident to us that Robyn’s strong leadership skills, ability to hire quality faculty and staff, and overall vision for Dogwood were responsible for the positive changes occurring at the school,” says parent liaison and PTA president Susan Livingood.
Cochran has reached out to families, the school district, and community partners to bring additional support and resources to the school. She established Dogwood Connection, the school’s family resource center. She also instituted Dogwood Visits, where staff members visit the home of each student to welcome them to the new school year.
Other reasons why Cochran was chosen: fostering two-way communication between administrators and staff members, listening to opinions and feedback, and involving staff in the decision-making process, some of whom serve on the 20-member Dogwood Leadership Team, which guides the school improvement plan; staying involved in quarterly data dialogue days—where instructional personnel study and discuss the use of data to help differentiate instruction—participates in collaborative learning team meetings; and regularly visiting classrooms to stay in touch with what is happening in the classroom and to help determine strengths and needs.
Cochran's participation in the Southgate Initiative, which includes the Reston Interfaith Center, Fairfax County Department of Family Services, and Fairfax County government, and local apartment complexes and community centers, “models her belief that we must all work together to support our students,” says Forgy.
“From an academic perspective, the gains in achievement made at Dogwood under Robyn’s leadership have been astonishing,” adds Livingood. “Moreover, the fact that Dogwood is no longer under VDOE sanctions has instilled a sense of pride that has not been felt around the school for many years.”
“Our goal has never been AYP or high test scores,” says Cochran. “It has consistently been to provide outstanding instruction to individual students regardless of their learning needs or challenges.”
Finalists for the 2012 FCPS Principal of the Year included Brian Butler, principal of the new Mason Crest Elementary School, and Jill Jakulski, principal of Burke School.